Words by Diksha Dahiya Art by Lily Li
I have always been mesmerised by the universe and how far humans have come in their understanding of it. We put a dog in space, walked on the moon and found water on Mars. But now we are in the next space race, the race to find a new home for the human species.
The reality is we are royally ruining our current home. Earth is doing its best but at some point, the ozone layer will disappear, Tasmania will be underwater and food will be scarce. So, it’s time we look elsewhere for a new home. Space seems like a great option.
The two potential paths are either colonising another planet or building a space habitat, a type of space station for permanent settlement. However, making it to space isn’t just depended on the revolution of technology, we also require a biological revolution. In order to live in space, we need to understand more about humans. There needs to be more innovations, ideas and funding to understand how our bodies both physiologically and psychologically will respond to the environment of another planet or space habitat.
The issues go far beyond engineering limitations. We have to know how the organic molecules in our bodies will react to the kind of radiation we’ve never been exposed to before. As it stands, this radiation will increase the likelihood of cancer, much more than what we’ve seen on Earth. Humans who have travelled to space have seen bone and muscle deterioration, fluid redistribution, stress, disruption of the senses and sleep. Some space investors hope that building underground colonies is the way, but one little issue will remain, oxygen.
The other requirement for survival is food and water. How will we be able to cultivate and manufacture food and water to sustain people? On Earth, plants roots grow downwards due to gravity, where it’s easy for them to soak up water and nutrients that make their way into the soil. However, in space, roots grow in every direction, and water and other essential plant foods float.
But NASA developed a way to grow food in space. They call it Veggie. It is a container that gives plants a little guidance by using ‘plant pillow’. These pillows are just bags of dirt, fertilizers and nutrients equipped with wicking material that soaks up water. The astronauts glue the seeds onto the wicking material directionally, so that their roots grow downwards and stem upward. The LED lights shine above these plants that give them the energy to grow, and expandable plastic walls provide protection as they get taller. They have just grown red romaine lettuce at the International Space Station but in the future they can grow cabbage and tomatoes using their seeds.
Now, I want you to pause and think. What comes to your mind when you think of the future of our planet? What will be the cost of these space travels? Will an individual’s social status and income play a major role in deciding who will make it out there? Because it’s surely not possible for all 7.7 billion people to leave Earth.
The high cost of leaving our planet poses a major obstacle in the space exploration. The International Space Station has been the most expensive machine to be constructed. Since its first launch in 1998, it has cost an estimated $150 billion. Currently, a flight to space starts at $250,000 and could be anything up to tens of millions of dollars. A private company called Virgin Galactic is offering tourists the chance to cross the boundary between the upper atmosphere and outer space for $250,000 and reportedly more than 600 people have bought a ticket. So, will only the rich be able to afford space travel in the future? Will only the rich survive?
I believe that asteroids pose imminent dangers to our planet, I mean we all know what asteroids did to the dinosaurs. In order to prevent our extinction, it’s crucial we find a new home. But until it’s a reality, we cannot use space exploration as an escape hatch from what we have done to our planet. For now, tend to mother Earth, look after the planet we have and leave the world a better place than you found it. The amount of money we spend looking outside our atmosphere needs to be spent retaining the atmosphere we have. If one day we find a new planet to call home, all I hope is that we do not repeat the same mistakes.